Matthew 10: 40-42
(24-39 Proper 7)
July 2, 2017
“Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
This week’s Gospel lesson continues last week’s and I’m going to talk about them together today. The passage (Matthew 10: 24-42) present us with quite a paradox in the good news-bad news department. So, step back for just a minute to the beginning of chapter 10 in the Gospel According to Matthew. You remember, we heard Jesus call his disciples together. He gave them the authority to heal in his name and to proclaim the good news. Then he sent them out to continue his work. But first he gave them some instructions. We’ve been hearing excerpts from those instructions. Are you tempted to just pass all these instructions over? After all Jesus was addressing his first disciples. But consider that word “disciple”. It comes from Latin and means one who is a pupil or a follower. Remember though, this is not just head learning, it’s learning put into practice. Like learning to play the piano or to construct fine furniture it holds a sense of being an apprentice, someone who is leaning from a master both the theory and the basic skills involved in a task. As disciples, we practice both the simple skills and the more complex ones, over and over again, until we get really good at what we’re trying to do.
Thinking about these two lessons I began to wonder: What would it be like if Jesus were here today in church and at coffee hour? Would you welcome him, offer him coffee, engage him in conversation? What would you say when he asked you if you were one of his disciples? It’s probably not the easiest exercise, that piece of imagining. But think about it. Jesus invites us to follow him, to learn from him, to practice what he teaches, and to continue his work in the world. We are invited into apprenticeship as Jesus’ disciples. It’s just that his instructions challenge us more than they comfort us, at last on the surface. “Whoever loves father, mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” What are we to make of it? Understand that Jesus is not saying that the family should not to be valued. In Jewish society of his time the family had the highest of value. Still, we are being asked to give our total devotion. Jesus’ presence demands a most important decision. Will we take up our cross and follow him? Much as we might dread this part of Jesus’ instruction to us we certainly love the last part. The part about the rewards of following Jesus. “Whoever welcomes a prophet or a righteous person will receive a reward, whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of Jesus’ disciples will be rewarded. On one hand, we are being called to turn way from, to die to, the ways we might ordinarily live our lives. Of course, the reward is everlasting life in God’s kingdom. Still, let me be clear about that decision. It’s a decision both very difficult and very easy, and we have to make it over and over again. I’ll illustrate with a story. Once upon a time there was a young man from a wealthy and powerful family. Growing into manhood he went into the family business with his father and enjoyed the usual pleasures of his station. But he grew dissatisfied with his life. He began to notice, the poor and sick folk who lived on the streets in his area. One day he exchanged his clothes with those of a beggar and spent a day begging on the streets. That day he came to know both the hardships and the joys of being poor. He was deeply affected by the experience. One day in church he heard Jesus’ instructions, the same ones we’ve been hearing. He heard the challenge to leave everything and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and took those instructions as a personal call. When he took a vow of poverty and turned to serving others his father was not pleased. In fact, his father had him imprisoned and took him to court demanding that the church and the court keep his son from following through with his vow. In front of the court the young man renounced his father, returned every stitch of clothing that he was wearing, and proclaimed: “I have no more father on earth, only my father in heaven.” Today we know this young man as St. Francis of Assisi. I suspect his journey started easily enough, as he offered care for the poor and sick of his time. As his journey continued it was harder. He found himself called to turn away from his family and to bear a consuming love for God’s less fortunate children. And he found new life. But Francis lived a long time ago, he was born around 1181 and died in 1226. What about someone more contemporary? Martin Luther King comes to mind. As the civil rights movement heated up in Montgomery, Alabama, King opened the doors of his church to hold organizational meetings. The issue at that time was the inherent racism found in the transportation system. A boycott was organized, a decision led to danger for all involved. The danger was made concrete when the King home was bombed. King had live with the knowledge that his actions had endangered the lives of his wife and children as well as his own. Still he continued, becoming a powerful speaker on behalf of civil rights. On the night before he died King proclaimed that he had been to the top of God’s mountain and seen a land of freedom for all God’s people. The next day he was dead from an assassin’s bullet. But Dr. King also found rich new life, everlasting life. Again, it seems as though the journey began easily enough, King saw a need and offered a “cup of cold water”. Then, step by step and day by day, he climbed the mountain. Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther King both gave all they had to reach for God’s Kingdom. Each in their way experienced God’s love and offered it to others. What about us though? Where can we offer a cup of cold water or open a door for a sister or brother in need? We are each called, after all, to be God’s voice and God’s hands in a world that is often lonely or worse even hostile. Give me your life says our Lord, as I have given you mine. We are called to join with Christ in his death so we can live into the reality of his life. That living reality where we are loved by God who is always with us in our most ordinary times and on into eternity. It is easy to begin, all you have to do is live faithfully one day at a time, doing what God has given you to do, and all the while growing in the knowledge and love of God. You see we only find our true selves, we only receive the gift of eternal life, when we lose ourselves for Jesus sake. I wonder: what part of being Jesus’ apprentice is easy for you, what part hard?
How will you practice being Jesus’ disciple this week? Just remember, in the midst of all my wondering, I know this for sure. God is with each of us always welcoming, redeeming and sustaining us as we carry God’s love into the world. Amen